October 2012 Issue
Cue the Colors
Ohio’s woodlands offer many ways to find the perfect autumn view, from stroller- and wheel-chair-accessible paths to trails for moderate and challenging hikes.
The most popular way to view autumn foliage is through the window of a car and, to be sure, a driving tour has its benefits. The motorist covers more ground with less exertion, enjoys a climate-controlled space and (in most parts of Ohio) ready access to icy Cokes served from drive-through windows.
But what do these fall color nomads miss that a hiker can experience from a walk through the woods? The answer is a sensory laundry list: the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, the complex smells of the fall forest, fleeting glimpses of wildlife preparing for winter.
If you want a more intimate encounter with Jack Frost’s art, a hike in the woods is the key. Where to walk? Ohio is blessed with many fine hiking trails, but the key to fall foliage on foot is to find a vista. Not so easy in Ohio, which has no real mountains. But, in a few places, our geology provides rock outcroppings over forests. In addition, Ohio has many lakes, and these often are overlooked opportunities for great distance views.
We’ve compiled a list of promising trails, divided by region and relative difficulty. So lace your boots and grab your camera, and consider a visit to one or more of these places this fall. Call ahead for location hours and fees, which often change as the leaves begin to fall.
Fall color zenith: Second weekend of October
Boardwalk Trail, Maumee Bay State Park, Oregon
Maumee Bay has about 2.25 miles of stroller-friendly and handicap-accessible boardwalk and, while it’s ostensibly a path to a lake marsh, you pass through abundant upland forest on the way. Cottonwoods, swamp and pin oaks, elms and sugar maples fill the canopy with lots of bright yellow and orange leaves. Start with the quarter-mile loop that begins at the nature center. For a longer trip, take the extension that leads out to the marsh. 419/836-7758, dnr.state.oh.us/parks/maumeebay/tabid/764/default.aspx
Brisk Autumn Walks
Ledges Trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Peninsula
This 2-mile loop trail takes hikers past some of the most interesting rock formations in Ohio’s only national park. Where the trail huddles at the base of the ledges the trees are mostly hemlock, which benefit from the shade of the moss-covered ledges (and stay green all year, of course). But for fall foliage, the trail eventually climbs about 100 feet to higher ground and an overlook that provides a panoramic view from high above the Cuyahoga River Valley. Staffers call it the best view in the park. 330/657-2752, nps.gov/cuva/index.htm
Towpath Trail, Toledo Metroparks, Toledo
A section of the old towpath from the Miami and Erie Canal runs 8 miles along the Maumee River, connecting Providence, Bend View and Farnsworth Metroparks. Floodplain trees — sycamore, buckeye, cottonwood and walnut — are most common here. Bend View is named for (and known for) the vista provided by a 90-degree bend in the Maumee River. There is an overlook and a WPA-built shelter from the 1930s. Getting there is easier than it used to be from a new entrance to the park along old U.S. Rte. 24. Walk about 1.4 miles back to the overlook, or make your trip more adventurous by hiking 2.2 miles from Farnsworth or 6 miles from Providence. 419/407-9700, metroparkstoledo.com/metro
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, South Bass Island
An elevator carries tourists most of the way to the observation platform 317 feet above Lake Erie. But there are 37 steps from the historic tower’s rotunda to the elevator base. So this ambivalent memorial to both war and peace requires a bit of exertion, but from the observation deck the view of the many surrounding islands is stunning. At the peak of fall color, when the October sky is crisp and clear and the water still, the wooded isles stand out against the lake like stained-glass windows in a wall of blue. 419/285-2184, nps.gov/pevi/index.htm
Rugged Foliage Foray
Brecksville Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Brecksville
Brecksville, with nearly 3,400 acres, is the largest gem in the Cleveland Metroparks’ so-called “emerald necklace.” In October, this jewel turns from green to a fiery blend of colors accessed by an extensive trail system including Deer Lick Cave Trail, a hilly 4-mile loop. The oak-hickory forests on the ridge tops are veined by seven fern-carpeted gorges that cut through the park, with many vistas provided by bridges and overlooks. For other hiking options, visit the Brecksville Nature Center, a rustic beauty built by the WPA in the late ’30s. 440/526-1012, clemetparks.com
The Cleveland Metroparks’ Tinkers Creek Gorge Scenic overlook provides a landmark view of the gorge (it’s a National Natural Landmark) and you don’t have to hike to get there. For more about this and other opportunities for fall color viewing in the Cleveland Metroparks, download the “Parkways to Fall Color” brochure at clemetparks.com
Fall color zenith: Third weekend of October
Thomas Trail, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville
The 1.1-mile Thomas Trail at Sharon Woods, operated by the Metro Parks system in Franklin County, passes through a 319-acre state nature preserve known for its mature oak trees. The trail is made of compacted gravel and is mostly level, making for an easy loop walk. About half way around you’ll find a large observation deck overlooking a meadow, which provides a fine vista to see the surrounding forest foliage (and a good spot for spying on deer at dusk and dawn). 614/891-0700, metroparks.net
Brisk Autumn Walks
Ridge Trail, Chestnut Ridge Metro Park, Carroll
Chestnut Ridge rises to 1,116 feet above sea level. This modest rise within sight of the Columbus city skyline marks the very beginning of the Appalachian foothills. Hike the 1-mile Ridge Trail for fall colors that include golden hickory leaves, yellow and red oaks and a grove of sugar maples described this way by nature writer David Rains Wallace in his book about Chestnut Ridge: “… in autumn the crisp sunbeams that stream through the golden canopy make the grove sparkle like cloisonné.” 614/891-0700, metroparks.net
Overlook Trail, Highbanks Metro Park, Lewis Center
There’s plenty to see on the 2.5-mile Overlook Trail: a pioneer cemetery, earthworks from the Cole culture and 100-foot shale bluffs overlooking the Olentangy State Scenic River. All this, and a wide variety of fall colors from the many different forest types at Highbanks Metro Parks: oak-hickory, beech-maple and the tall sycamores along the river. Stop by the nature center to pick up a map — the trails at Highbanks are interconnected. 614/891-0700, metroparks.net
Rugged Foliage Forays
Hog Hollow Trail, Mohican State Park, Loudonville
Visitors to Mohican State Park are most likely to take the Lyons Falls trails through the Clearfork Gorge, a National Natural Landmark lined with evergreen hemlocks. For fall foliage, seek higher ground by hiking the Hog Hollow Trail from Mohican’s iconic covered bridge to the fire tower, a 2.3-mile climb rising 300 vertical feet. Still got knees? Climb the 80-foot fire tower for a 360-degree-view fall color feast. The return trip should seem much easier. 419/892-2784, dnr.state.oh.us/parks/mohican/tabid/769/Default.aspx
Cemetery Ridge Trail, Clear Creek Metro Park, Rockbridge
The 7-mile-long Clear Creek Valley has long been known to birders and naturalists as a place of great beauty and natural diversity. This is a Columbus metro park but it is far from the capital city in both geography and atmosphere. It is wonderfully remote and wild, so pick up a map at one of the parking lot kiosks or risk getting lost. Combine the 2.5-mile Cemetery Ridge Trail with portions of the Fern, Hemlock and Creekside Meadows trails for a strenuous 4.5-to-5-mile day hike through a wide variety of hardwood forests. 614/891-0700, metroparks.net
The half-mile Boardwalk Preserve Trail at Inniswood Metro Park in Westerville is handicap-accessible and passes through a mature beech-maple forest. After the hike, see what still blooms in the beautifully landscaped Inniswood gardens. metroparks.net
Fall color zenith: Last week of October into early November
Lake Vesuvius boardwalk, Wayne National Forest, Ironton
When the U.S. Forest Service built a 0.32-mile wooden boardwalk along one edge of 143-acre Lake Vesuvius, it may have created the longest single stretch of flat surface in this very hilly section of the Wayne National Forest. The boardwalk also makes Lake Vesuvius accessible to visitors using wheelchairs and provides a convenient platform for anglers. In autumn, this promenade gives us all a view of the mature hardwood forests that march down from the steep hills to the water’s edge along this man-made lake. Many benches, wide areas for resting and railings that are both decorative and secure make this a stroller paradise. 740/753-0101, fs.usda.gov/main/wayne/home
Brisk Autumn Walk
Fort Ancient State Memorial, Oregonia
Perhaps archeologists are thinking too hard as they ponder the reasons why the Hopewell culture may have built the earthworks that line the edge of a high bluff overlooking the Little Miami River. Could it be that the Hopewell simply admired the view? We can certainly appreciate it in autumn, when an overlook constructed 2,000 years after the earthworks provides a view from 235 feet above the river. There’s a parking lot right next to the overlook, but for a lovely autumn walk, use the paved roads through the state memorial or sample from five different trails. 800/283-8904, fortancient.org
Rugged Foliage Foray
Buzzardroost Rock, Edge of Appalachia Preserve System, Adams County
A panoramic view of the Ohio Brush Creek valley is your reward for scaling this outcrop of dolomite that towers 300 feet above the valley floor. The 1.5-mile hike to the top is on the strenuous side but the scene from the top — Appalachian foothill forests spreading out in all directions — is worth the rigorous climb. 937/544-2188, nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/ohio/index.htm
Big Woods and associated trails, Hueston Woods State Park, Oxford
Hikes of anywhere from 2 to 5 miles can be put together by choosing from or combining hikes involving the Big Woods trail, the Blue Heron Trail and Sugar Bush trail. Either way, you’ll get a good view of some of the oldest beech-maple forest in Ohio, spared from logging by pioneers and ablaze in reds and yellows in the fall. 513/523-6347, dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/745/default.aspx
Climb to the top of the viewing tower at the Great Serpent Mound for a panoramic view of Ohio Brush Creek valley and surrounding hillsides. ohiohistory.org
Suggestions for fall color driving tours are easy to find. You can find some, for example, at the Fall Color Homepage maintained by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources: ohiodnr.com/fallcolor
. In addition to recommended driving tours, the site includes fall color updates, a calendar of fall programs at state parks and forests and other information about Ohio’s forests.